painted lace coverRating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel

As Austin stares at his ex’s wedding invitation, he realizes that even after several years, he is still not entirely over things ending. It isn’t so much that he is still in love with his ex, it is more that Austin thought they were perfect together. On paper, they should have been the ideal match. So after being dumped for being too boring and not a good fit, it makes him wonder if there is hope for him finding someone else. When Austin’s best friend convinces him to sign up for a dating app, Austin reluctantly agrees. He likes his life structured and ordered and disciplined, so this is far outside his comfort zone. But Austin takes a leap by reaching out to a hot guy, and is surprised when Keaton answers back. Austin can’t imagine why the attractive guy would be interested in him. Austin is even more surprised when Keaton’s flirty banter entices him to let go and have a hot sexting experience, something way outside his normal behavior.

Keaton is an artist who lives by no rules and no schedule. He doesn’t want to be obligated to anyone or anything. So when he gets messaged by Austin, Keaton isn’t looking for anything serious. But he finds Austin hot and definitely wouldn’t say no to another hookup. The two men start casually connecting more regularly, usually for sex, but sometimes just for companionship. Neither man really thinks it can be anything serious, however. Keaton doesn’t do relationships and Austin can’t even really believe Keaton is interested. But as the men spend more time together, slowly each begins to realize that he has true feelings for the other. Somehow, without realizing it, Keaton and Austin have fallen for each other. Now they just have to be brave enough to admit their feelings and take a chance on love.

Painted Lace was originally published as Kiss and Run, part of the Valentine’s Inc collection. K.M. Neuhold has now revised and significantly expanded the original into this longer story. This is a super sexy book that features a lot of hot times between the men, as well as some fun with sexy lingerie on Keaton’s end. But for me, what really stuck out about this book is the way that Neuhold brings out the emotion. This comes across in a lot of different ways, but one of them is through Keaton’s art. Neuhold does such a great job bringing out the sense of emotional intensity that Keaton gets as he creates and that Austin gets as he looks at Keaton‘s artwork. We really can feel the passion that Keaton brings to it and the way he translates his emotions and his feelings about what’s going on in his life into his painting. On the other side, the way that Austin looks at Keaton’s artwork and the way it stirs up his feelings really highlights the emotional connection between the two men. I really got such a great sense of what Keaton was creating, I could almost visualize it in my mind as I was reading about it and Neuhold really brings that aspect of the story to life.

The other emotional aspect that I really liked about the story is that the way each man starts the book out with clear perceptions of themselves and who they are. For Keaton, it is his sense of sort of the “starving artist” persona and the idea that he wants to live with zero commitment to anything. And through his time with Austin, Keaton starts to realize that not only does the relationship not tie him down, but that he wants that connection and he wants to see Austin and be with him in a way that he never really imagined. For Austin’s part, he’s always seen himself as a rigid and controlled and structured and thought that that was who he is and what he wants for himself. In Austin’s case, I think the transformation is even more extreme because not only does he realize he can let go some of that structure, but that he actually isn’t the person he always thought he was. He really enjoys the spontaneity and the freedom and the chance to do things that he never would’ve given himself a chance to do before Keaton. So I really enjoyed watching both Keaton and Austin discover they are really a lot more than they thought they were.

As I mentioned, the story is expanded from the original version. I’m not clear whether Neuhold added whole new sections for this, or whether she just expanded overall throughout the story. But I will say that my one issue here is that it did feel like perhaps it was too long for the amount of story being told. The two main events that happen are the guys attending Austin’s ex’s wedding, which occurs early on, and then the development of Keaton‘s art, which happens fairly late. So the middle of the book really felt like a lot of back and forth where both guys are second guessing themselves in terms of whether they should call, and whether or not the other one is interested, etc. It just seems like a lot of time with us being in their heads as they debate it. For example, the guys would get together one night and then we would see them both want to call the other, but second guessing themselves until eventually one of them breaks. And this happened many times throughout the book. So I felt like at some point I needed to see either more plot to balance it out, or for this part to be tightened up.

Overall, I found this an entertaining story. Austin and Keaton are really sexy together and I loved seeing the way each man grows and develops over the course of the book. There is a nice feeling here of being more than you think you can be that I think works well with the story. I also really enjoyed the way Keaton’s art is built into the book. So this is a nice read when you are looking for fun and sexy, along with some nice depth.

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